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  • Sarah J Maxwell

RIP - your darlings

Must I kill my darlings? How many must be slaughtered? What if I kill something that was brilliant and would have won me the Booker Prize?

Not a direct answer, but bear with me.

A question pondered by writers is this – when do I give up on a MS?

You’ve spent the best part of a year writing a novel, followed by months of self-editing, allowing a trusted reader/s access, painstakingly cultivated a synopsis, a short and long one (just in case) and yet all queries end with shattering rejection. Is it time to relegate the MS to a drawer and get on with another project?

Short term – yes, 100%. It may be the writing and/or story isn’t good enough, or it’s just not the ‘right time’ for your book, but in either case, say 'goodbye'.

If you’re still thinking about your MS months (in my case, years) later, chances are, it’s worth persevering with. Retrieve it. Have a read. If the writing isn't good enough, you’ll know. If the story has gaping plot holes, you’ll notice them. If you feel excited at the prospect of spending more time with this bad boy, grab a coffee, plug in, and begin (again), but consider this:

Killing off one or two of your little darlings might not be enough. Besides, you should have already done that during the initial editing, or when you were redrafting and polishing PRIOR to sending out into the world. Dusting off your MS requires an altogether more ruthless approach.

If the whole thing is littered with info dumps, poor dialogue and inept character development and you 'patch', the rejections will keep coming. Even if it isn’t exactly littered with those things, months have passed, right? You’re a better writer now and there is something about this book …

Roll up your sleeves, be brave and kill every word. You know the story well (a prerequisite if you’re serious about this book), you’ll be inspired to (maybe) introduce new characters, remove others, you’ll see opportunities to foreshadow, increase tension.

If you’re worried the perfect sentence and/or scene might get wiped, I can only say, every moment spent writing means you’re growing as a writer and there will be more perfect sentences to come. Have confidence in yourself.

In summary: Kill your darlings, words will come.

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